The initiative was started over eight years ago with a goal to provide alternative income opportunities for ex-poaching families. Dhonk is a skills institute that trains the local people of Ranthambore in handicraft making, giving them the opportunity to earn a living and learn a trade. Ranthambore National Park is home to all manner of animals including bears, cheetahs, deer, water buffalo and the Bengal tiger. Poaching has been rife in the region for many years, but thanks to Dhonk and the work being done through Tiger Watch, an organisation geared towards protecting the tiger population of Ranthambore, the number of Bengal tigers living in the region is slowly on the up. Ranthambore, located in Rajasthan in northern India, is an eco-zone with no factories or industries, offering little opportunity for employment.
Divya Khandal, founder of Dhonk, has worked in the field of wildlife conservation since 2008 when she connected the dots between illegal farming and poaching, and lack of opportunity and education. The women who work at Dhonk are taught new skills by local craftsmen such as stitching or block printing, with goods created then sold through tourist trade. Dhonk also runs a micro-lending initiative that allows families to take out loans of up to US$1000, which can be spent however they need – on education for children, household appliances, toilet facilities, or medical bills.
‘None of us have a big degree or education in what we’re doing but we’re trying to make a difference,’ says Khandal. ‘We’re trying to create quality products that are centred around a story of women’s empowerment to make it worthwhile for the families and for tourists to come back to.’ Forty-five families regularly take part in the programme, taking home 60% of profits made from the craft sales. The rest of the money goes to materials or is reinvested back into the programme. There hasn’t been a tiger poached in Ranthambore since the programme began in 2008. A visit to the Dhonk craft centre in Ranthambore is one example of a free addon to the Contiki India itinerary.
– Aleisha Moore